July 04, 2013 12:48
North Korea predictably found itself the odd one out at the 20th ASEAN Regional Forum in Brunei. The ARF is composed of the 10 member countries of ASEAN as well as China, Japan, Russia, the U.S. and others.
Their foreign ministers meet annually and issue a chairman's statement that is supposed to reflect the opinions of all member countries, which is why previous statements with calls for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons also urged the U.S. to abandon its "hostile policy" against the North.
But this year's chairman's statement for the first time took no account of the views of North Korea, which became the 23rd member of the ARF in 2000. The ARF urged North Korea to "comply fully" with its obligations under relevant UN Security Council resolutions against its missile and nuclear activities. The ministers "reiterated their support for all efforts to bring about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner," it said.
The member nations also emphasized the "importance of addressing the issues of humanitarian concerns of the international community." It was again the first time that an ARF joint statement made any reference to North Korea's human rights abuses, perhaps prompted by the recent high-profile repatriation of a group of teenage North Korean defectors from Laos.
One South Korean diplomat said, "With regard to the North Korean nuclear issue, I can say that 26 of the 27 member states spoke in one voice."
North Korea, in other words, is solely responsible for its diplomatic isolation. The international community now agrees that the country's nuclear provocations can no longer be tolerated.
The North is scurrying to escape its diplomatic isolation by dispatching high-ranking emissaries to China and Russia, but those countries also want the North to scrap its nuclear weapons, and the North will soon realize that the tide is flowing against it and its options are running out.
North Korea is approaching a crucial point that will determine the success or failure of its diplomacy. What it needs now is the flexibility to turn its diplomatic isolation into an opportunity.
In the past, the North has always resorted to provocation in order to escape from diplomatic isolation. Now that would be diplomatic suicide. But the North is unpredictable and irrational, so there is no guarantee that it will do the sensible thing, and Seoul would do well to brace itself for another provocation.
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